Some of us have been lucky enough to have access to computers all our lives, but for the older generation computing hasn't always been so easily accessible. Here we discuss how to choose the best PC or laptop for the elderly. (Also see: Smartphone for the elderly buying advice.)
A reader wrote into PC Advisor to ask: My parents’ old PC has died and they’d like to replace it with a simple and inexpensive laptop. They use Microsoft Office (probably 2003 version) for email and word processing, and also shop online and print Word documents, but that’s all they want to do. They have an old printer that they want to keep.
I think it’s best to retain familiarity, as far possible, to keep to Windows, avoid touchscreen, avoid Apple and iPads, and to have as large a screen as possible. My father would also prefer an old-style standalone keyboard rather than use a small laptop keyboard.
It would also be good to remotely access the computer, so I could sort out problems for them as they live some distance away.
Here's how we solved their problem:
How to choose a replacement PC or laptop for your parents or grandparents
We agree that familiarity is the number one priority here and, we almost hate to say it, a replacement desktop PC may be the most sensible option for you. Also see: Best laptops of 2014.
You don’t say what has actually gone wrong with their existing computer, but assuming the keyboard, mouse and monitor are still working, simply replacing the main PC unit will keep everything as close as possible to what they had before. A small change in screen size or switching from a mouse to a laptop touchpad can both be major obstacles to an elderly person with little inclination to master new technologies.
Assuming you have a backup of their data, we’d suggest sticking to the existing version of Windows and setting everything up as closely as possible to how it was on the original PC. If you have no backup, it’s worth pulling the hard drive out of the dead PC and seeing what can be recovered. It may be the case that you can copy all their files and settings over.
Of course, you could still do this with a laptop, depending on the operating system installed, but you may find some laptops lacking support for Windows XP if that’s the operating system they’re currently using. Take a look at our laptop buyer’s guides for something within your budget. If you match the spec of their current PC and keep the screen as large as you can afford, then we’re sure you’ll find some well-reviewed examples to choose from.
For remote access, we’d recommend installing TeamViewer from teamviewer.com, which can be used free of charge for personal use and will allow remote access from another PC, Mac or mobile device.
How to choose a PC for the elderly: ergonomics
One issue that's often overlooked when buying a computer is ergonomics. Obviously this affects everyone and not just the elderly, but making a PC comfortable to use is almost as important as the specs of the machine itself.
It's important to have a chair and desk which allow the user to sit comfortably at the right height. Ideally the chair should have adjustable arm rests, and you might also invest in a foot rest.
The monitors should be positioned about arms' length from the chair, and it should be squarely in front of the chair to avoid neck strain. If it's height adjustable, this will help in making the top edge roughly eye height. If the monitor doesn't have any adjustment, you could consider a mounting arm such as CBS's Flo. It requires the monitor to have 'VESA' mounting holes, but most do. The arm doesn't fix the monitor in one place but allows you to move it around easily with very little effort.
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